PORTLAND, Ore. – Two weeks, time with her national team, and a week spent recovering from a calf injury couldn’t derail the Lindsey Horan we last saw in Chicago.
Then, against the Red Stars, her early goal and second half pressure that forced a penalty ignited Portland Thorns FC to their first victory of the season. On Sunday, Horan was at the same level, equalizing the Orlando Pride’s opening goal before setting up her team’s game-winner.
For the third time this year, Horan was among the best players on the field. And for the third time this year, the Thorns star gave every indication she’s ready to take her game to yet another level, leading the Portland Thorns to a 2-1 victory in their first home match of the season.
“The last two years, when we’re really under pressure,” Horan has stepped up, Thorns head coach Mark Parsons said. That ability to raise her game puts her in some elite company, in Parsons’ view.
“[Christine Sinclair] does it every game,” he explained, “but Linds has really stepped up when we really need it, and what she’s doing now, she’s stepping up every single game. Today, she was very influential before they scored, and then she just continued being influential in [after Orlando first goal].”
Something did change, though, after the first goal. You could see it when the Thorns kicked off, as Orlando fell back, with Horan immediately surging into the vacated space. Instead of playing one of her signature switches wide, Horan, for a moment, seemed willing to carry the team on her shoulders.
“[Orlando’s goal] definitely fired me up, and being involved in her goal was a little frustrating for me,” Horan said, being slightly hard on herself. Her back was to the field as a quick start out from Portland’s penalty area was played to her feet. Pride midfielder Christine Nairn came from behind to win possession and found Chioma Ubogagu in the left of Portland’s penalty box. Ubogagu’s left-footed finish gave Orlando it’s only goal.
“I think our whole team came out of that, and we were not going to let them win,” she said. “We wanted to do it for our fans, so we changed momentum and really got going.”
Horan was the main force behind that change. Eight minutes after Ubogagu’s goal, Horan found herself on the ball just above Orlando’s arc, and although the term “unstoppable shot” may be one of the most overused in soccer, Horan gave Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris no shot. With a quick release on a left-footed try from 23 yards out, Horan put her shot against the inside of the right upright, scoring an equalizer that seemed destined from the moment Portland kicked off.
Whatever satisfaction Horan derived from her goal, it didn’t diminish her hunger. The Thorns midfielder continued to be the game’s dominant force, helping her team take the lead when her overlapping run to the left flank put her in position for a Meghan Klingenberg layoff. The ensuing cross fell at Sinclair’s feet just inside the six-yard box, giving the Thorns’ captain an easy finish and, like her teammate, a goal and an assist going into halftime.
By intermission, Horan had given the NWSL another glimpse of an emerging star, a description that seems misused, given the heights she’d achieved before this season. But through three games of the 2018 campaign, there is a new, undeniable dominance to Horan’s play. The Thorns’ midfielder is on the cusp of something greater than she was, even if she sees her game in more modest tones.
“It is my position to get on the ball as much as I can,” she said, describing her game’s arc. “I just try to find the game as much as I can. I really wanted to get the team going and get the ball moving, and play our game, which is moving the ball.”
If Lindsey Horan’s game were only about moving the ball, she would still be one of the NWSL’s better players. She does so like no other player in the league, switching play with a touch and accuracy we see from few players in the world. If she were only a holding player, she may be the best holding player in the NWSL.
But her game is about so much more than moving the ball. For the second game in a row, she produced a crucial, first goal; and for the second game in a row, she was key in setting up a game winner.
Together, her last two performances are a reminder: Lindsey Horan not only continues to be good; she continues to be good when it matters most.